Myths about multitasking, or How our brain reacts to it

    For most of us, doing several tasks at the same time makes us less productive. So why the hell is it so hard for us to concentrate on one single thing?

    We all know well that for effective work you need to focus on one thing and avoid multitasking with all your might. Nevertheless, somehow we forget about it, having supper in front of the TV screen with an open laptop on our lap. We write letters, view news feeds, look at Facebook and Twitter, chat, all at the same time as our main task. And despite everything, deep down in our hearts, we are convinced that we are able to cope with all this heap of multitasking without harming our productivity, or, perhaps, with its minimal losses.

    Recently, I started my new working project, which is aimed at "single tasking." The results of my work in the “not all at once” mode simply amazed me, which is why I decided to go deeper into the study of this issue. I was interested in understanding what was going on in our heads and getting an answer to a question that had long been of concern to me:

    Why do we even undertake several things at once? Why do we develop the habit of clutching at once?

    I found astounding research results and the answer to my painful question was simple, if not prosaic: It brings us moral satisfaction.

    But the irony is that people who do a lot of things at the same time, contrary to statistics breaking the belief in multitasking, feel very productive and for the most part are firmly convinced that Julius Caesar himself will easily be surpassed. And, when we see such a self-confident person, we want to be like him. And what, in fact, are we worse? No sooner said than done. And now, unbeknownst to ourselves, we are smoothly mastering the art of multitasking, first with difficulty “hanging” new things on ourselves, then we get used to and rejoice at the feeling that we have learned Zen and entered the league of super-productive people. At this time, daily productivity only decreases, studies have shown.

    How does the human brain respond to multitasking?

    The most interesting thing is that our brain is not at all adapted to multitasking. When we have dinner, chat on Facebook and browse news feeds at the same time, our “main thinker” does not focus on all these actions at the same time - on the contrary, he frantically tries to switch between the various activities that we have put on him.

    In the image below you can see the different activity of the brain when performing several actions and how it switches between tasks when you concentrate on each case for several seconds at a time.

    Researcher at Stanford University Clifford Nass (Clifford Nass) suggestedthat those people who do a lot of things at the same time, in any case, develop some other amazing abilities. It seemed to him that they should be excellent in sorting information and quickly switching between tasks, and also required to have good short-term memory.

    Sadly, as a result of his research, Professor Nass discovered that all his assumptions were erroneous - none of the three were confirmed:

    “We were just shocked. We were all wrong. It turned out that those who do several things at once are terrible in all aspects of multitasking. ”

    People who often do everything at once filter worse useless information and turn their attention from task to task much slower compared to those who are focused on one thing.

    Most studies show that this practice is very harmful for us - not only our productivity suffers, but also the ability to filter out unnecessary information.

    I noticed all this even before a thorough study of this topic. And in order to increase the productivity of my work again, I decided to put all the dots on the “i”, streamlining all my work processes (special attention was paid to working online) and banning multitasking once and for all.

    How I built my workflow, which is based on alternate tasks

    Before I found out about everything that was stated by me at the beginning of the article, I already had enough problems with trying to do everything at once. Usually, while working, I had Google Chrome open with many tabs, two mail windows, Facebook and a messaging program. With all this wealth, I felt driven out and could not concentrate normally - my brains exploded, but the work reluctantly crawled forward at a snail's pace. I needed to end this immediately and start working efficiently. To combat the fever of multitasking, I had to say goodbye to my usual working rhythm and create a number of rules for myself:

    1. One tab in the browser

    As you might have guessed, this strategy is that I limit myself to only one tab in the browser - so I have to prioritize and work with exactly the task that is most important to me.

    I will outline this with an example. Some of my key tasks are writing emails, chatting, writing tweets and blog posts. I used to open it all at once, now I work with each one in turn: after finishing one thing, I close the active tab and move on to the next.

    It is real and effective only in conjunction with another important point:

    2. Planning

    Thanks to this rule, my idea of ​​working with only one tab in the browser did not remain just a ghostly fantasy, but it became a very real fact and even turned into a habit. Every evening I sit down and brainstorm on the topic: what do I need to do tomorrow. This is not my invention - this technique is quite common, and perhaps you yourself have been doing something like this for a long time.

    In my case, I made changes to the idea of ​​compiling a to-do-list: at the end of the day I discuss my tasks with our CEO, and this led to serious productivity improvements.

    Now, instead of sketching out a list of tasks semi-automatically, I need to think over them and be ready to explain to another why I chose these goals, and, most importantly, how I will come to them. And thanks to this, a better understanding came to me of what exactly I will be busy for each next working day and each project is more clearly outlined in my head - and this is already half the work. You can cooperate with colleagues for such 10 minutes - this is useful for your productivity, and it’s just great to communicate and discuss your projects.

    3. Setting goals with SmartProgress

    This is a product that not only helps me set goals, but also methodically go towards them. Many articles on productivity and achieving goals say that in order to succeed in everything you have planned, you need to share your ideas with other people and publicly announce your undertakings. SmartProgress service gives this opportunity. It helps to find the outlines of what was once only ghostly ideas. There are always people in the community who are happy to give advice and can share their experience in achieving those goals that I have yet to come to.

    But what motivates the most is the need to report on their progress. The notorious fear of failure and condemnation, which has sunk in the subconscious of modern man, which often stands in the way of success, plays into my hands here. The unwillingness to publicly admit that I failed, showed weakness and did not keep this promise to myself, pushing me forward. Going to goals is not easy, and therefore it is especially important to make sure that your motivation is enough all the way from start to finish.

    4. Change of scenery (at least once a day)

    This is what helps me a lot to work productively and stay focused on one task. We often hear that we need a comfortable workplace. As it turned out, I needed a lot of such places so that after the end of one task I could change the scenery and start something new. I tried to take 5-minute breaks, close my laptop and leave for coffee or something like that - it does not help. Therefore, the usual part of my daily work routine was a change of place. Mostly I work at home in the morning, then go to the cafe. I even made a list of coffee houses where I can continue to work for the good of the company, but in a different atmosphere. I know that such an opportunity is not available to everyone, but this rule could serve the benefit of those who, like me, have remote work.

    And the last digression (I want to please the music lovers, to whose army I myself belong): listening to music during work is not multitasking, which will undermine your effectiveness. Professor Clifford Nass, already known to us, mentioned that “a special part of our brain is responsible for listening to music, so that we can listen to our favorite compositions while we are doing something else.” Well-chosen music can even increase our productivity.

    And how do you feel about completing several tasks simultaneously when working online? Do you have mechanisms that help you deal with what distracts you? What do you do to avoid multitasking?

    The post was written based on the original article and personal observations of the author.

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